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Test Web pages in multiple browser versions

One of the challenges that Web builders face is testing their Web pages in various browsers. This article shows you a simple way to test your Web pages in multiple browser versions.

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One of the challenges that Web builders face is testing their Web pages in various browsers. It's not enough to know how your page will appear in the current version of your favorite browser—you also need to test all of the other browsers that your site visitors might use. If you're working on a Web site that's open to the public, you also need to test multiple versions of each browser.

Because of this need for testing, it's common for a Web builder to install several browsers, such as Internet Explorer, Netscape, Mozilla, and Opera. Besides having the current versions of each of these browsers, a good test system might also include several previous versions of the major browsers.

Finding older browser software
Maintaining multiple versions of the major browsers can be a challenge, and IE for Windows is more challenging than most. The first issue is locating copies of older versions of browser software. Even if you've had older versions of the browsers installed on your computer, installing a newer version usually replaces any older version of the same browser, leaving only the current version available. And, if you're setting up a new computer as a test system, you'll need access to older software versions.

If you don't have what you need archived on a CD somewhere, you can turn to several online resources:
  • Evolt.org provides the most comprehensive browser archive that I've found. It includes versions of Opera and IE, among many others.
  • Netscape maintains an archive of old browser versions on its main site.
  • The SillyDog701 site also maintains an archive of Netscape versions.
  • Mozilla.org posts a list of recent releases. You can scroll to the bottom of the page for links to older releases.

Editor's note
If you're searching for current Web authoring tools, check out the Site Authoring section in the new Builder Downloads site.

For most browsers, you can download and install the version of your choice. To avoid overwriting any existing installation of the same browser, you'll need to elect to do a custom install instead of accepting the defaults so you can specify a different directory for each new version of the browser software.

The problem with IE
Until recently, having multiple versions of IE for Windows installed on a single computer has been problematic because of the tight integration of IE with the Windows operating system. Conventional wisdom was that you couldn't have more than one version of IE installed in a given copy of Windows.

As a result, many Web builders resorted to using several separate Windows computers for testing, each with a different version of IE installed. The only other option was to create multiple virtual machines on one hardware box using emulation software such as VMware.

And now a solution
In response to the Eolas lawsuit, Microsoft is circulating a developer's preview of a version of IE without the features that are covered by the Eolas patent. One of the most interesting things about the test version of IE is that it can coexist with a standard version of IE. (Read about the changes in IE as a result of the Eolas suit.)

Joe Maddalone, of Insert Title Web Designs, is credited with realizing which file (iexplore.exe.local) makes it possible to run more than one copy of IE and sharing that discovery with the rest of us. Another enterprising Web builder, Ryan Parman of Skyzyx.com, has packaged the iexplore.exe.local file with the core browser files for each of several versions of IE. These stand-alone versions of IE are available from his download page.

To install one of the stand-alone IE versions, you simply extract the files from the ZIP archive and place them in a separate directory on your Windows test system. (Almost any directory except the main IE directory will do.) To launch the stand-alone old browser, open the directory and double-click the iexplore.exe file.

Thanks to the contributions of Maddalone and Parman, it's now much easier for Web builders to set up and maintain a system for testing Web pages in older versions of IE.
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